Update: This story has been updated to add comments from an interview with Eden Robinson.
Two authors from Kitimat and Kitamaat Village have made the CBC’s list of bestselling Canadian fiction books for the week of June 21-27.
Michelle Good grew up in Kitimat, but now lives near Kamloops, B.C. Her debut novel, Five Little Indians, is about the experiences of five people who are trying to find their way in the world after being released from years spent at a residential school.
Good said it was quite the shock when she found out her book had made the Canadian bestsellers list, especially as it’s her first novel.
“[It feels] surreal, in some ways it does. It’s a real ‘pinch me’ moment for anybody, especially a debut novelist,” Good said. “And to have it be as warmly received as it has been, has been quite an experience, it’s pretty exciting for sure.”
Growing up, Good first learned about residential schools from family members, who told her stories of their experiences living in them.
“That’s where my awareness of the schools came from…my mother, my grandmother, my cousins, my uncles, they all went to residential schools.”
The motivation for the novel, though, came from her time working as a lawyer, representing survivors of residential schools and hearing their stories.
“The real motivation to write my book came from my law practice, where I represented almost exclusively for almost 20 years…residential school survivors,” Good said. “If you are a feeling human being, you cannot spend 20 years in the company of residential school survivors and not be traumatized by their stories. There’s a kind of secondary trauma that [is] experienced. It’s shocking to hear over and over again how those children were treated. It’s a brutality that we don’t yet really acknowledge.”
Good said her goal with Five Little Indians was to draw more attention to the conditions of residential schools and the circumstances the children living in them were subjected to.
“There was just sort of this common refrain that you hear a lot, which was, ‘Why can’t they just get over it?’, and you know, ‘It’s history, it’s over, get over it’…And so I wanted to write book that would give some insight into why people can’t get over it, because they’ve been so brutalized, not only individually, but collectively as a people,” Good said. “These schools were not to be confused with a well-meant gift of education. These schools were intended to erase a people, they were the key tool in the colonial toolbox.”
It took Good nine years to write the book, partly because she had never written one before and partly because she wanted to be sure she was telling the characters’ stories in a meaningful way.
Good was still running her own law firm when she first started writing. She enrolled in the University of British Columbia’s Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, with the purpose of writing this book. Good said the forced deadlines helped her stay on top of her writing, especially as she was already very busy with running her law firm.
“Writing is hard work, and it’s a very solitary experience. I think I said in [another conversation], ‘Writing is hard work, it’s not magic, but when it’s happening, it’s magical,’” Good said. “That’s what I wanted for this book, for everybody in this book. I wanted their story to be written from that place, so that the intensity is there for every character, consistently.”
Good is currently writing her second book, focusing on two characters — a grandmother and granddaughter, from 1885 and the Great Depression, respectively.
Good said she doesn’t get the chance to come back to Kitimat often, but is hoping to do a library tour for Five Little Indians later this year, to have the chance to come to Kitimat and say hello again to her hometown.
As well, Kitamaat Village author Eden Robinson’s book, Son of a Trickster, made the list, three years after its initial release in 2017.
The book revolves around a teenage boy, Jared, who is trying to figure out his history while also trying to hold his family together. Son of a Trickster is the first in her planned Trickster trilogy, and was the fourth novel Robinson wrote, along with Blood Sports (2007), Monkey Beach (2001) — which has a film adaptation in the works — and Traplines (1998).
Robinson said the inspiration for the novel came from the stories she was told as a child, as well as from the writing and reading workshops she ran with schoolchildren.
“When I was a kid, after dinner everyone would sit around the kitchen table telling stories. I always loved trickster stories because they were wild and crazy. I wanted that energy in a book,” Robinson said.
Robinson also toured schools in the northwest and would run workshops for students. She would divide them into groups and have each group create a character.
“Then we would come back together and send our characters on an adventure,” Robinson said. “They always surprised me with the direction they went!”
She said that many of these wild creation inspired her to think big and think wild when she was starting to write Son of a Trickster. The novel has also sparked a series on CBC set to start airing later this year.
The second in the Trickster trilogy, Trickster Drift, was published in 2018, and the third, Return of the Trickster, was recently accepted for publication and is set to be released in March 2021.
“I wrote it during the pandemic, so it got a little darker than I was expecting!” Robinson said, laughing. It isn’t as intense as the previous draft, however, which Robinson said she wrote while in a two-week self-isolation during a writing class in Campbell River.
“That’s the head space I was writing in,” Robinson said, “and where all the death and torture came in.”
However, the final draft that was accepted was toned down and has a better balance between the happy and sad aspects, and Robinson is excited for its release.